Wages of Lockdown? Non-Covid deaths surge in UK

A devastating report in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, and one which is getting nowhere near enough attention:

While focus remains firmly fixed on Covid-19, a second health crisis is quietly emerging in Britain. Since the beginning of July, there have been thousands of excess deaths that were not caused by coronavirus.

According to health experts, this is highly unusual for the summer. Although excess deaths are expected during the winter months, when cold weather and seasonal infections combine to place pressure on the NHS, summer generally sees a lull.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that during that period there were 2,103 extra death registrations with ischemic heart disease, 1,552 with heart failure, as well as an extra 760 deaths with cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke and aneurysm and 3,915 with other circulatory diseases.

Acute and chronic respiratory infections were also up with 3,416 more mentions on death certificates than expected since the start of July, while there have been 1,234 extra urinary system disease deaths, 324 with cirrhosis and liver disease and 1,905 with diabetes.

Alarmingly, many of these conditions saw the biggest drops in diagnosis in 2020, as the NHS struggled to cope with the pandemic.

The cause and effect here is not especially difficult to figure out. During the lockdown in 2020, many normal, routine, health screening services were suspended. Fewer people were screened for cancer, for example, both in the UK and in Ireland. For most people, that is of no consequence. But for the unlucky few, it means that cancers which would have been detected went un-noticed – for months, or even a year. In an illness like cancer where “getting it early” is of paramount importance, it is likely that an unknown number of people received death sentences last year, without ever knowing it.

Of course, in the UK, a breakdown in deaths by cause is provided. In Ireland, we have been dealing all summer with a similar mystery, and nobody seems able, or willing, to figure it out. Here’s economist Seamus Coffey:

Higher deaths, but no reason provided? Well, here’s a potential reason, from 2020:

The number of mammograms carried out by the HSE’s BreastCheck screening service fell by more than two-thirds in 2020, leading to the detection of 600 fewer breast cancers.

Some 56,000 women had a full mammogram last year compared to more than 170,000 in 2019, a drop of 114,000, and mammogram numbers this year are expected to be behind again as BreastCheck operates a coronavirus-affected service.

600 fewer breast cancers detected does not mean 600 fewer breast cancers. It means 600 women in Ireland had breast cancer, and had no way of knowing that they did. Some of those women – hopefully most of them – will be lucky enough to still have their cancer detected in time. But some unknown number will not have been so lucky, and will have been killed, in effect, by lockdown.

This is the cost of lockdown that has gotten hardly any attention in Ireland. We shut everything down in order to save lives, but with basically no public debate about the lives that might be lost in years to come as a result of the suspension of our usual diagnostic and screening services. An unknown number of Irish people will pay for that decision with their lives over the coming years, and most of them will never even know why.

In a proper democracy, there would be a full and total review of the decisions taken to enter lockdown, and how effective lockdown was. This would be balanced against the cost – in terms of economics, and lives lost – and the public would be given the full facts.

As it is, however, this remains the great unreported story. A story which is drawing very little interest from politicians, or the media. That should change, but you’d have to be very naïve to believe that it will.

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